Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Little Like Alaska, Only With More Killer Robots and Mutant Dinosaurs

by Tom Bozzo

A side effect of the efforts of the maker of my toy of choice to survive by focusing on its core audience of pre-teen boys is that its representations of people are getting a lot more gendered than they used to be. A pack of 31 'community workers' is scandalously short on women (depending on what you surmise is under hats and helmets, as the figures all have the generic smiley face), and that's actually directed at grown-ups with big towns to populate. Elsewhere in the line, gruff and unhinged-looking male faces are increasingly dominant.

So it was with some amusement that, while assembling this little set for John earlier, I found that the face on the included figure would make a decent Dame Edna.

The forward-looking situation is relatively grim, though, as the '06 assortment offers Catwoman (who does come with an expression that should make someone a good Lego avatar someday), Princess Leia (in enslaved-by-Jabba the Hutt form), and Hermione Granger. Hm.
As I have a potently sentimental interest in absolving Lego, Toy of The Gods, I must pin my hopes to the possibilities under the helmets and blame our own gendered minds for assuming a lego person with a short haircut and no flowers on their outfit couldn't possibly be a woman. It's not Lego. It's us.

OK, OK. Straws. Clutching at. But I'm thinking the chef looks a lot like Monica Geller ...
Scandinavian countries have some of the highest levels of occupational sex segregation (much higher than the US, for example) despite their relatively high rates of participation by women in the paid labor force, "family friendly" welfare state policies, and gender egalitarian ideologies. Lego may be depicting the local world rather accurately. (Assuming decisions about the gender of run-of-the mill, non-celebrity characters are still made locally.)
Xtin: Agreed -- and I declined to provide a specific count of the women in the 'community workers' set for that reason. It's clearer that there's nothing plausibly representing, say, a female humanoid magic-user in the castle line.

An interesting extension of the LEGO Factory concept would be a make-your-own-minifig system, a la the Mini-Mizer.

Kim: Interesting point. I actually think the town figures were more gender-equitable than Scandinavian reality in the distant past (see, e.g., this from 1980). I think the sets are getting a bit more boy-focused everywhere, though North American sets are decidedly more aggressive with weaponry.
If I'm selling 95% of my products to boys--teen, pre, and tween, probably in that order--I'm not making a large number of female-resembling figures either.

Best bet is that they responded to implicit customer has no gender, but missing a market is less expensive than making three items for every one sold (ask F).

Some explicit customer feedback might not be a bad idea.
Ken, I'd agree, though my ordering would be tween, pre, and teen -- with grown-up fans maybe coming close to the teens (fewer of us, but we have money); teens are well-placed to find LEGO uncool or at least to have other things on their minds...

They have found that they can quite profitably sell stuff that doesn't play so well with the main audience on the Web, and I really do think a minifig customizer would be a cool future feature for their WWW factory.
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